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I Hope All This Mindfulness Is Here To Stay

A person walks on Day Boulevard which has been closed to traffic to reduce crowding on the adjacent sidewalk and allow social distancing, Saturday, April 11, 2020, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)
A person walks on Day Boulevard which has been closed to traffic to reduce crowding on the adjacent sidewalk and allow social distancing, Saturday, April 11, 2020, in Boston. (Michael Dwyer/AP)

If you’re suddenly noticing just how much you’re noticing that you weren’t noticing before, you’re not alone. Take your hands, for instance. I had no idea how many times a day I touch my face — to scratch an itch, wipe away a crumb, remove what I used to call a “goojie” from the corner of my eye.

Or, I’m asking myself, what is the last thing I touched as I’m about to touch (fill in the blank): car key, steering wheel, door knob, kitchen counter, bathroom faucet, TV remote, cat, and, of course, food and related packaging?

Or, out walking, how far away is that person? What does six feet look like?

Or, at the supermarket, did I just hear that man clear his throat? Did that woman’s scarf actually touch my cart? Yesterday, at a red light, I noticed I was hanging farther back than usual from the car ahead, just to keep a safe distance.

Now I’m not only aware, I’m hyperaware. It’s like mindfulness on steroids in the age of coronavirus.

The urge to turn away from all the noticing is strong.

The urge to turn away from all the noticing is strong. And some of us, mercifully, have that luxury. We get to goof off, laugh, overeat, oversleep, binge-watch Netflix, or otherwise distract ourselves — which can be a good thing. Because too much focusing on all the fear and uncertainty, too much activation of the amygdala — the fight-or-flight part of the brain — has negative physical, emotional, spiritual, and social consequences.

But let’s not lose this heightened sense of awareness altogether.

One of the main principles of mindfulness is to notice what’s happening right here and now, without judgment and with acceptance. With curiosity and compassion. Research shows the benefits of mindful awareness of breath; and of our senses: sight, touch, sound, smell, taste; and our physical sensations, whether pleasant or unpleasant. When we’re mindful, we realize that we’re often otherwise in a trance, reliving the past or worrying about the future, not paying attention to what is present. And it reminds us that much, or maybe most, of what we focus on is out of our control.

As a longtime meditator and mindfulness practitioner, I’m thrilled with the increasing attention to what’s happening in this moment. The world is experiencing an awakening. We’re noticing our interconnectedness, our desire to reach out toward people in our own circle and in the circles around us — family, friends, acquaintances, community, region, country, continent, world. Our new motto is “We’re all in this together.”

New Yorkers organized to clap and cheer for the essential workers. Quarantined residents of Siena, Italy, sang from their balconies. Berklee College of Music students created a moving “What the World Needs Now” video.

Not to mention other creative activities that the pandemic has spurred in the form of memes, artwork, free concerts, song parodies, virtual choirs, poetry and essays.

Now I’m not only aware, I’m hyperaware. It’s like mindfulness on steroids in the age of coronavirus.

Millions of people are gathering virtually rather than isolating. We’re writing letters, talking on the phone instead of texting, joining online classes or playing board games on Zoom, taking museum tours. We’re looking up. Like that cartoon that shows a pre-pandemic family in their living room, all staring at their phones, juxtaposed with an image of them happily biking together now.

This surge of bonding is strange and wonderful — and overwhelming at times. But here we are, noticing. Together.

I’m imagining the world after the pandemic — or I’m trying, anyway. Will the solidarity continue? Will we own how much we used to take for granted? How much we forgot to notice?

I have hazy images of lasting change — a “we’re all in this together” philosophy that can’t be undone or forgotten after the staggering losses we now face. Perhaps we won’t return to automatic pilot. Perhaps we won’t revert to complacency and division. Perhaps we really can be more compassionate, look up, and listen. Share our common humanity.

I read that warring parties in Yemen agreed to a ceasefire to stem the spread of the virus. Let’s stop killing each other so we don’t die? The irony is inescapable.

So, as we notice that we’re noticing more, and we notice that we’re suffering as a result, let’s step back softly. Kindly. Let’s make mindful choices about just how much we let in and how much we let go. But let’s keep nurturing the beauty of our connectedness and work toward sustaining a true, lasting change of consciousness.

Related:

Deborah Sosin Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Deborah Sosin, LICSW, is a clinical social worker and author of the award-winning picture book “Charlotte and the Quiet Place.”

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